I’ve been doing a lot of research on pink electronics lately, and as I was reading about one pink gadget after another, I started thinking about the color pink and what it means to people. Why do we dress girls in pink and boys in blue? When did that start? Why do girls and women like pink? So I put my pink electronics research on hold temporarily and started looking into the color pink instead. And I have to say I found a lot of interesting facts.
The whole idea of “pink for girls and blue for boys” was not common practice in the US until the 20th century. In the 1800s, all babies were dressed in white dresses, which extended below their legs (that hardly seems like a practical garment, but apparently crawling was not encouraged back then). In the early 1900s, color became popular and people who chose to dress their children in conventional colors were advised to dress girls in blue and boys in pink. Blue was considered delicate and exquisite and pink strong and masculine. In one of their issues from 1927, Time Magazine wrote “”In Belgium, Princess Astrid gave birth a fortnight ago to a 7-lb. daughter. The cradle . . . had been optimistically outfitted in pink, the color for boys, that for a girl being blue.” It was not until the 1950’s we started doing the reverse, and these days, few people would decorate their little boy’s room in pink. It does help to identify the sex of a baby; I can never tell if (dressed) babies are boys or girls, but if the child in question is wearing a pink dress, you can be pretty sure it’s not a boy.
Regardless of how children were dressed, it seems like girls all over the world have always liked the color pink. Why is that? Research done on the gender preference of colors, suggest that it’s in our genes. Two neuroscientists at Newcastle University in England, Dr. Anya Hulbert and Dr. Yazhu Ling, asked 208 volunteers (mostly British but they also included 37 Chinese men and women to determine if there was a cultural difference) to choose the color they preferred from a variety of colors on a computer screen. The colors were divided in two: red-green and blue-yellow. Presented with the basic colors, all volunteers selected the color blue (long known to be the favorite color of most people), but when they were tested on mixed colors, women from both groups (British and Chinese) showed a strong preference for colors on the red side of the spectrum (i.e. pinks and purples). The results were so consistent that the researchers concluded that one can usually identify a person’s gender from their color preferences.
Based on this study, there does seem to be a genetic reason why women like pink. One line of thought is that this evolved way back when we still lived in caves and women were the gatherers of berries and fruits and had to be able to recognize what was ripe. Another suggestion is that women needed to know if a family member was sick, and a red (or dark pink) face would suggest that the person was running a fever.
Of course, more research needs to be done and Dr. Hulbert has plans to modify the study to do research on babies, who have not yet been subjected to cultural use of color. She states “another way to separate “nature versus nurture” when it comes to favorite colors will be to test the preferences of infants”. It will be very interesting to hear what they find.